How to plan a successful career

8th June 2017

Transform web

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Skills ,
  • CPD ,
  • Qualifications ,
  • Training


Steven Parrish

John Barwise reviews IEMA's membership and professional development programmes and charts the career paths of several members

As the global community begins the transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy, businesses need staff with the right level of skills to make it happen. But what are the options for aspiring environmental and sustainability professionals, and what career path do they choose?

The world of work is changing. The continual impacts of climate change, water stress, volatile energy prices and the growing threat of resource depletion are forcing organisations to adapt their business models to a new, more sustainable way of working.

Yet research by IEMA shows that only 13% of organisations are fully confident that they have the right skills in place to compete in a sustainable economy, with only 25% of leaders believing they have the capabilities in their organisations to address the sustainability agenda.

IEMA chief executive Tim Balcon says progress is being made on improving on these figures: ‘The research published in our seminal Preparing for the Perfect Storm report showed a massive gap between the supply and demand of skills that are critical to the economy. Since then, recognition of and reward for these roles have grown and the gap is perhaps narrowing. There is still much to be done by business to recruit and upskill in the right places. That’s why environment and sustainability is attractive to people looking for a meaningful profession – it makes a difference, and there’s room to do so.’

Prospects, the jobs, marketing and recruitment firm for post-graduates, lists more than 30 industry sectors that need people with environmental qualifications. Sector-based jobs include environmental and energy management, sustainable development, environmental impact assessment, environmental engineering, resource management and nature conservation – the list is lengthy.

Specialist skills

For many businesses, the transition to a sustainable economy will require specialist skills and contract services – for others it entails retraining and upskilling staff in environment management and sustainability. But employers need credible assurance that investment in training and human resources can deliver a sustainable business model.

IEMA’s membership and professional development standards are recognised internationally as the career benchmark for this diverse and growing sector. It has a worldwide alliance of more than 14,000 environment and sustainability professionals, working to ensure organisations have the appropriate skills base and services to manage the transition to a sustainable future. Professional grade membership applications are growing each year, with an increase of 50% from July to December 2016 over the same period in 2015.

IEMA’s chief policy advisor, Martin Baxter, says the rise in membership is inspiring: ‘We face environment and sustainability challenges across the globe and we need professionals with the skills to make positive and transformative change. It’s inspiring to see sustainability professionals from all parts of the world qualifying through IEMA’s professional standards.’

Continuing professional development

IEMA membership encompasses a wide range of services to help environment and sustainability professionals to plan and develop the next stages of their careers, including continuing professional development (CPD), approved training courses, mentoring, training facilities and a structured career to enhance the learning experience.

Managing personal goals and professional development helps individuals to evaluate and achieve their career aspirations. IEMA’s step-by-step approach to CPD is designed to enhance members’ learning experience and skills and simplify the process of retaining and updating records. IEMA has introduced a new evaluation method to support this process. By logging CPD activities, members can record and reflect on what they have achieved so far, decide what areas need strengthening and set realistic targets for future development. The CPD log sheet follows a logical four-step process:

  • Setting goals: recognise what you want to achieve in the short and long term, identifying what needs improving and setting targets for building knowledge, as well as the skills to get there.
  • Record: log the learning experience and how it can be applied.
  • Reflect: evaluate performance and lessons learned, including a points system to evaluate activities.
  • Review: assess progress towards overall goals and contribution to enhanced career.

Maintaining a CPD record is a mandatory requirement for all professional membership grades. CPD should be completed annually and members are invited to complete and submit their log sheets to IEMA as part of their membership renewal.

IEMA provides a free mentoring scheme to help members who have set their sights on Full membership or Chartered environmentalist to achieve their goals (see panel on membership levels, p32). The scheme provides structured support for up six months and enables members to connect and share knowledge with a mentor who has already achieved the higher grade.

A detailed description of what is required at each level of membership is available on the IEMA website (

Skills mapping and training

IEMA’s skills map is a career benchmarking tool to support and encourage members at each stage in their professional development. The map enables members to compare their current knowledge, skills and experience with the competencies required to progress to the next level of membership.

Members can use the skills map to perform a gap analysis to identify training needs, learning objectives and qualifications needed to improve competencies. Each of the membership grades are covered in detail. Employers also use the map to assess new job requirements that may be needed to support the strategic direction of their organisation.

The skills map is the link between CPD and IEMA’s training programme and professional recognition.

Training enables staff to acquire new skills, build self-esteem and increase their contribution to the organisation they work for. This is particularly important in the transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy, where the challenges of climate change, resource efficiency, regulatory compliance and environmental management are pushing the boundaries of current work practices to new levels.

IEMA offers approved environment and sustainability training courses covering a range of sustainability disciplines, including environmental management and auditing, legal compliance, carbon footprinting and sustainability strategy (

Successful completion of a one-week foundation certificate in environmental management, for example, leads to Associate status, whereas the extended three-week Certificate in Environmental Management course leads to Practitioner membership. ISO 14001 transition courses, as well as those in environmental auditing, legislation, carbon footprinting, corporate responsibility and sustainable development extend the learning experience for members who want to enhance their professional development.

Ongoing compliance

Claire Kirk, head of professional standards at IEMA, says quality assurance is of the ‘utmost importance’ in all approved training programmes. ‘We approve training centres, training courses and tutors. To be approved they must demonstrate how they meet IEMA’s established standards,’ she says. ‘All centres have to show ongoing compliance through an annual self-assessment, which is reviewed by IEMA. Teaching observations, visits and exam results help us monitor the ongoing performance of IEMA approved centres.’

IEMA members who undertake training in courses such as environmental auditing, environmental impact assessment and the government’s mandatory energy savings opportunity scheme (ESOS) receive recognition through specialist registers.

John Barwise, MIEMA, CEnv is a director at QoL, an environmental management and communications consultancy.

IEMA’s continuing professional development, skills map and training programmes are available at benefits-map

IEMA membership – charting progress

IEMA unveiled its new membership structure and revised skills map last year. At the time, chief executive Tim Balcon said the changes would gear the profession up to achieve bigger things. ‘Being a transformational change agent at all stages of our careers is not just about climbing a ladder. Life as an environment and sustainability professional is about a continued journey of achievement, one of learning, collaboration and leadership.’

Indeed, IEMA describes each membership level as a ‘stage on the journey’ to professional recognition in environment and sustainability.

  • Student and Affiliate – an entry level for those considering careers in environment and sustainability.
  • Graduate (GradIEMA) – a launchpad for graduates who want to take on a transformational role in business. Provides access to the environmentalist, networks and details of evolving best practice and other resources and recognition for what you know.
  • Associate (AIEMA) – the starting point for those aiming to build a career in environment and sustainability. Must complete a one-hour online multiple choice exam, with 70% pass level.
  • Practitioner (PIEMA) – professional recognition as an environment and sustainability practitioner. Membership includes practical guidance, support and access to best practice tools to advance knowledge and skills. Applicants must complete a one-hour online multiple choice exam, with a 70% pass. A written assessment demonstrating competence in delivering four environmental or sustainability initiatives is also required. Those who have completed particular IEMA-approved training courses are exempt from the exam.
  • Full and Chartered environmentalist (MIEMA CEnv) – IEMA professionals with the knowledge and experience to lead on environment and sustainability. Applicants must provide a verifiable CV and a 2,000-word written paper demonstrating competencies in dealing with complex issues and the ability to analyse and evaluate environmental and sustainability opportunities and threats. Professional development goals must also be explained. Applicants are interviewed online by two IEMA assessors to discuss competencies in more detail.
  • Fellow – ambassadors who are at the forefront of the profession, pushing practice and policy forward. Applicants provide a written submission to demonstrate how they meet IEMA’s 13 competencies of Fellow membership and explain how they have influenced the profession on key issues.

What members say

Here, a selection of members who have recently upgraded talk about the inspiration for upgrading, how they prepared and what it has done for their careers. They also offer some tips to others thinking of elevating their IEMA status.

Hannah French, MIEMA, CEnv

I was inspired to progress through the full membership process to increase recognition of my knowledge, experience and influence and to raise the profile of the environmental profession in my industry. After reading the environmentalist and attending various webinars, I have been able to contribute to IEMA’s endeavours in the circular economy and EIA.

My preparation began with a gap analysis against the MIEMA/chartership core competencies and the IEMA skills map to assess my readiness. I discussed my application with my mentors and peers. I followed the application guidance document, particularly the advice about staying up to date with the latest news, preparing responses to mock questions, reading past copies of the environmentalist and familiarising myself with my work history.

I have had various roles in the government and construction sectors in Australia and the UK and worked with amazing peers and mentors who have challenged me and broadened my experience and knowledge of environmental management and sustainability. This has given me an appreciation of environmental management issues faced by different industries and the opportunities for sharing best practice to improve performance.

Since beginning my journey to full membership and charter status I have started to fully appreciate the benefits of IEMA’s CPD opportunities through webinars, workshops, mentoring, networking and the environmentalist. MIEMA has given me the confidence to take on more responsibility in my career and given my employers the confidence that I am at the forefront of emerging trends and issues environmental professionals are facing.

My top tips are to seek the advice and support of your mentors and peers who have gone through the MIEMA CEnv process. Be familiar with your working history and prepare responses to mock questions – mentally or on paper.

Emma Dixon, AIEMA

I am a safety, health and environmental adviser on a large confectionery site with different manufacturing processes and many environmental management requirements. My geography degree included environmental elements, but did not prepare me for legal requirements of environmental management. It was extremely valuable to my career to upgrade in order to gain a better understanding of environmental management and how to apply this in a workplace.

I completed a two-week course through a training provider. I also found it useful to read news articles on current environment topics, including climate change. I also consulted with colleagues who had previously completed the course. Practising past exam questions was extremely useful.

Gaining IEMA membership and a further qualification have enhanced my interest and knowledge in environmental management. I do have a personal interest in the subject but it has given me a better appreciation for the processes we follow and legal obligations to do so.

To progress in my role, it was important for me to gain this qualification. It has given me a solid understand of the key environmental management requirements, and I have been able to actively participate in these in my workplace.

When completing an IEMA course, it is useful to bounce stories and experiences off the other participants. Even though the exam was open book, don’t rely on your notes too much. Prepare as if it were a closed book exam and practise lots of past papers.

Eoin Harris, MIEMA, CEnv

I worked in another industry for five years before changing careers to become an environmental professional, so I’ve been motivated to progress through a professional membership structure.

Most of my preparation was through working for a variety of organisations on a range of projects, so I picked up a lot of information along the way. Guidance documents by regulators, industry bodies and companies leading in their fields are especially useful. the environmentalist also provides a good overview of topics that are coming up.

A consultant needs to apply knowledge and skills in new industries and organisations regularly and you are always learning new things. It is rewarding working out how to fit an environmental topic into an organisation’s culture and processes.

Having IEMA membership helps me to demonstrate my commitment as an environmental professional and is often a requirement for particular roles. It has helped me through my career by providing a structured way to learn and progress, but it also provides great learning opportunities, especially through the webinars.

My advice is to try to get a broad experience wherever you can. So many environmental issues are interlinked and it helps to know the whole picture. Develop your softer skills as you go. Being able to communicate, prioritise and manage effectively are essential skills for this profession. Allocate time every week to develop yourself – this one is easily overlooked when your diary is busy.

James Dixon, MIEMA, CEnv

I had always planned to progress through the levels of IEMA membership as my career developed. I see it as professional recognition following a structured peer-assessed method. Chartered environmentalist qualification was a great inspiration for me to progress my membership level. The final push came from my new director who specifically included achievement of MIEMA and CEnv in my appraisal targets for 2014.

Resources and guidance on the IEMA website ( were very useful in developing my application pack, including the supporting paper. IEMA’s LinkedIn pages were also a good resource for learning about the experience of recently qualified MIEMA and CEnv members.

My career path has offered valuable learning experiences at each stage of my development. My first role in Newcastle City Council gave me the opportunity to assess and manage environmental impacts of multiple services and set objectives to improve performance. At Newcastle Hospitals, I progressed from waste management to head of environmental management. Building up experience with each job role, coupled with promotions to more senior posts, afforded me the skills and experience required for MIEMA and CEnv.

IEMA events and webinars are invaluable in maintaining my CPD to do my job effectively. In terms of career development, I wouldn’t have made the interview for my current role as MIEMA and CEnv are listed as essential requirements in my job description and person specification.

My advice is to take every opportunity offered to you, even if it falls outside your comfort zone. Take time for CPD. It often falls down the priority list when deadlines are looming, but it is so important. Talk to the IEMA members’ network – most people are very supportive.

Laura Duggan, MIEMA, CEnv

I had invested considerable time and effort in preparing for the Associate assessment and wanted to keep up the momentum. Having reviewed the IEMA skills map for Full membership and given my professional experience to date, I felt I was ready to progress to the next level.

I reviewed the MIEMA competencies and assessment criteria set out in the application pack and watched the webinar. I drafted my application using my CV and the STAR approach (situation-task-approach-result). I also used IEMA’s gap analysis tool to assess competency levels and prepared an action plan, focusing on topics in my own industry as well as global issues. IEMA webinars were really helpful, along with the environmentalist magazine.

After graduating with a Master’s in leadership for sustainable development, I started work as environmental officer at George Best Belfast City Airport and progressed to become its environmental manager. I am responsible for driving the environmental and sustainable development agenda and am a member of the airport’s corporate responsibility team. I have been exposed to a wide range of areas, including noise, energy and carbon, and resource efficiency and must keep abreast of current issues, policy and legislation in a range of areas. Working in a senior management position has necessitated the development of my leadership and influencing skills, which I believe are critical to bring about positive environmental change and sustainable development.

Membership of IEMA has been pivotal to my career development. The skills map has guided me in the knowledge and skills essential for developing as an environmental professional and IEMA membership has given me access to a range of resources to help me to progress. In addition, through IEMA’s regional network, I have met other environmental and sustainability professionals that I have been able to contact for benchmarking and advice.

Use IEMA’s gap analysis tool and skills map to prepare for the Full and Chartered environmentalist membership application paper and interview. I would suggest preparing examples to demonstrate each competency and be specific about your role and the results you have achieved. Also, emphasise past activities and your future CPD plans to demonstrate commitment in this area.

Tom Cramond, AIEMA

The revised EIA Directive raises the question of competent expert. IEMA membership is something I always intended to achieve, but the imposition of the directive was just the kick-start I needed to get moving.

I got a little confused as to what level of membership I was going for and therefore my revision changed through the process. I googled a lot of the key phrases highlighted in the AIEMA standard. For some aspects that I hadn’t been aware of, such as the planetary boundaries concept, there are videos of seminars and presentations online.

My career path has been linear. Although I have not had much experience of implementing environmental management systems, I have gained a good depth of knowledge in other fields. Working for a large multi-disciplinary consultancy firm has exposed me to different types of projects and sectors, all with their own challenges, and has been a continual learning experience.

IEMA membership has highlighted various elements of being an environmental professional, including aspects that may be personal interest or practices that apply to day-to-day working. Membership also allows engagement, involvement and access to the appropriate resources to further understand these elements and gain a greater insight to how these practices, concepts, work streams and policies are delivered in the working environment.

My top tip is to engage with IEMA and use the skills map to ensure you know what level to aim for and what you want from upgrading.

Nick Baker, MIEMA, CEnv

I’ve recently returned to the profession after several years working in other roles in Skanska. Progressing to Full membership felt like the right way to mark this return and re-establish my credentials as a sustainability practitioner. I read the material provided online about upgrading to MIEMA. This proved a useful starting point. I also asked for advice from colleagues who had been through the process and took advantage of the IEMA mentoring scheme. This last step proved especially helpful in understanding what the assessors would be looking for.

About six years ago I took the decision to move away from an environmental role and pursue other opportunities to develop my career. I’ve been fortunate to work in procurement, business development and project management. That diversity of experience has helped me to understand the business context of sustainability better and, I hope, made me better at what I do today.

Within construction, my sense is that the importance of IEMA membership as a mark of professional competence is growing. IEMA has a wide selection of learning materials available, which have proved invaluable in helping me to build my professional knowledge. the environmentalist is also a constant commuting companion – there’s always at least one interesting article that grabs my attention.

Take every opportunity to keep learning and developing yourself. Don’t put off taking the step up to MIEMA – the application requirements force you to think about your experience and what drives you. In a busy life that is a rare chance to reflect, which is incredibly rewarding.


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

Young people struggling to secure green jobs

Just one in 20 workers aged 27 and under have the skills needed to help drive the net-zero transition, compared with one in eight of the workforce as a whole, new LinkedIn data suggests.

18th June 2024

Read more

Senior consultant, EcoAct

3rd April 2024

Read more

At a School of Management careers event at Cranfield University, one of our IEMA-approved university partners, we spoke to students from a range of postgraduate courses, from supply chain to marketing and management.

28th March 2024

Read more

To make real change on sustainability, it’s time to redefine leadership models, writes Chris Seekings

1st February 2024

Read more

Caris Graham (she/her) is Diverse Sustainability Initiative officer at IEMA

1st February 2024

Read more

Lisa Pool reflects on the highlights of the past year and what they mean for the future

1st February 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close